Shelter calls for new consumer regulator for tenants

A new report from homeless and housing charity Shelter entitled “A vision for social housing” includes a recommendation to form a consumer regulator for private tenants.

While the focus of the report is on the social housing sector, Shelter dedicates a chapter to reforming private renting, which the charity says is of the upmost importance, claiming that currently tenants are in a “weak bargaining position”.

“Private renters enjoy the protection of national regulators for their energy, water and telecommunications, but have no equivalent to regulate the standards of their homes,” states the report.

Shelter sets out a vision of a consumer regulator, similar in scope and power to the FCA, that would set standards for all housing in the private rented sector as well as have the power to investigate landlords following a referral from tenant groups, local law enforcement teams or the housing ombudsman.

It adds that the regulator would ideally set out means of redress.

Shelter recommends an initial threshold on the size of private landlords who would have to register with this regular at those with 25 homes or more, which Shelter says would represent under 1 per cent of all private landlords, but cover 20 per cent of properties.

It envisions landlords registered with the regulator being subject to cyclical and short-notice inspections which would result in a published rating.

The report also reiterates the charity’s issue with Section 21, which gives landlords the option to evict without reason, which received some attention at the last Labour party conference.

Shelter recommends ending Section 21 and making permanent tenancies a legal minimum for all renters.

The Residential Landlords Association policy manager John Stewart says: “There is already a vast number of competing proposals for more regulation of private renting. The government is currently considering its response to consultations on mandatory redress for landlords and a single housing ombudsman.

“We don’t need another layer of regulation, but the effective enforcement of existing rules and the introduction of a specialist housing court to speed up access to justice for both tenant and landlord.

“The vast majority of private landlords need a period of stability to allow them to get on with supplying the safe, secure homes that are badly needed and more robust action from local authorities to deal with the criminals.”

Meanwhile, National Landlords Association director of policy and practice Chris Norris comments: “It is certainly true that some residents in in the private rented sector suffer from the effects of poor and unresponsive enforcement action. The NLA would agree that more should be done both locally and nationally to ensure that set standards are maintained regardless of tenure.

“However, it is unclear exactly what impact the call for a new regulator would have on those struggling to access today. Property standards are regulated by numerous pieces of legislation, including the new Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, which is yet to be implemented. Rather than adding to the stack of poorly understood housing legislation, we would prefer a genuine focus on enforcement against those who flout existing rules.

“Introducing a regulator, focussed only on certain tenancies, determined by the size of a landlord’s portfolio, is likely only to add to confusion about where tenants may take complaints.”

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